|Friends ‘PAL’ around at Christmas party |
|Posted: Friday, December 16, 2011 8:35 am |
In a season associated with miracles, Millie Bowlin’s mother admits Millie is just one of those miraculous stories.
Millie Bowlin (right) receives a quick lesson in jewelry making from her friend, Maddie Doster, at the Christmas Funderland event Saturday at Shepherd’s Field.
Actually, Saturday afternoon, Shepherd’s Field Church in Martin was filled with miraculous stories as a local group of special needs children and their families came together for Christmas Funderland – just one of their many activities throughout the year.
The group, known as Preparing for Abundant Life (PALS) and taking their cue from Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, was jumpstarted by local veterinarian Debbie Reynolds. PALS serves northwest Tennessee – primarily Obion and Weakley counties – and offers free educational workshops to empower families with education on disability law and special education law; information and presentations on area resources for special needs; encouragement, support and kinship with other families in similar circumstances; promotion of community awareness to promote inclusion and involvement of special needs children with typical peers and their community; field trips and fun activities and free skilled child care always provided for special needs individuals and their siblings.
Saturday afternoon, young members of PALS along with other children enjoyed a room filled with inflatables, a table display filled with lizards and a tarantula, creating snowman ornaments, constructing colorful gingerbread house, finger painting, jewelry making and picture taking while parents chatted over coffee and other refreshments.
Amidst the laughter and holiday cheer, Reynolds is rushing around and staying busy making sure everyone is happy and pictures are taken. Once in a while, she stops to check on her daughter, Chesney, who has DiGeorge’s Syndrome.
“This event and this group are important because children with special needs don’t get invited to parties or events. They don’t win trophies. This group gives them the chance to meet each other and it gives the parents a chance to talk. Being the parent of a child with a special need can be really isolating and lonely. This group empowers and educates with workshops, but sometimes, like today, we just get together to have fun,” Reynolds said. “We lift each other up.”
All around the auditorium, volunteers help the children and, according to Reynolds, the number of group members is growing all the time with about 100 families already having joined.
“Some of these children have diagnoses and some just don’t,” Reynolds remarked.
Around a circular table, six-year-old Millie Bowling pastes together the walls of a gingerbread house. A short while later, her friend, Maddie Doster, helps her put together a bracelet.
Bowlin, a resident of Rives, has characteristics of a syndrome, but doctors have never been able to give her a diagnosis.
“Debbie (Reynolds) contacted us about three or four years ago and this is the biggest group I’ve see so far,” Josie Bowlin, Millie’s mother, said. “It’s been so nice to be able to sit down with some of these parents over a cup of coffee and talk to them. It’s nice to be able to talk to people who understand.”
“Millie has not been diagnosed, but she’s such a miracle with what she’s been able to do, we’re okay with the non-diagnosis,” she added.
On the other side of the room, Luke Kalb, 8, prepares to go down the inflatable slide. He has been diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. His mother, Lisa, admits it’s been wonderful to be able to talk to people who can relate.
“They understand. You don’t have to worry if your kid is doing something wrong. That’s just their disability and the traits that go with it. And I enjoy helping out new parents and the new ones coming into the group who feel lost,” she said.
“The word gets out through events, the web site, word of mouth and early intervention,” she added. “This goes through Shepherd’s Field and they have been wonderful to help get this going. They’re always here for everything we have and they provide volunteers for all the events.”
Over in the inflatable jump room, 9-year-old Brigette Watts takes a time-out from the fun in a corner by herself while parents, John and Misty Watts, watch intently.
Watts, of Union City, is autistic. Her dad learned of the PALS program from a flyer and from Reynolds, who happens to live just down the road from him.
“There are not a lot of things in the area that cater to special needs children, so it’s always good to meet other parents,” he said. “There are a lot of special needs children in West Tennessee, especially with autism. The rates are ridiculous. Most people don’t realize how prevalent it is in this area.”
“This program is ‘my baby.’ This is my interest. Other people have their ‘babies’ like St. Jude’s and other place, but this is ‘my baby,’” he added.
His real baby suddenly comes to life in the corner of the jump house after a rest and is ready to rejoin the fun.
Lisa Bowlin’s baby, Millie, can’t seem to sit still and is being escorted all over the room as more and more kids join in the fun.
“She’s writing her own story. In kindergarten, she’s in the 100 and the ABC Club. It’s exciting to see her transform,” Bowlin said.
“Doctors gave her one plan, but God had His own plan.”
For more information on PALS, contact Reynolds at 514-0799, email firstname.lastname@example.org or submit information to www.nwtpals.com.